Monday, December 30, 2013

Ginger Mango Detox Smoothie

Confession time... I don't like fruit very much. I'll reluctantly eat a banana or apple when I feel like I should be healthy but it would not be my preferred choice. Luckily I love veggies, so hopefully I'm covered. This year I am hoping to get some more fruit into my diet and smoothies are a great way to do that!

After all the indulgence of the holidays I thought a nice detox smoothie would be a good way to start the morning. I'm also dying of the flu and ginger is a great bug fighter, so it seemed to make sense. I doubled the ginger in the original recipe.

I was pleasantly surprised with this smoothie, it's zingy and delicious and not too fruity at all. Definitely a great start to the morning!



Ingredients:

  • 1 banana
  • 4-5 slices frozen mango
  • 1 inch knob of ginger, peeled and grated
  • 2 oz orange juice
  • 2 oz water
  • 5-6 ice cubes
Blend all ingredients in a blender and drink! <3

Adapted from here.

Now I'm going to sip my smoothie and sit down with my 2014 Create an Amazing Year workbook and get a start on 2014! 
Monday, December 16, 2013

Gifts for Foodies and Kitchen Junkies

I swear this post isn't a subtle hint for my hubby, but I thought it would be fun to go through the Argos catalog and pick out some awesome gifts that a kitchen junkie or foodie might enjoy for Christmas.

Let's get the expensive stuff out of the way first! What foodie doesn't want a good mixer? Kenwood and Kitchenaid are both known for their fabulous mixers, but Kitchenaid always had the edge on aesthetics. Not anymore! Check out this fabulous Kenwood mixer, I think it looks so slick with the red and stainless combination and if it were in my budget I would totally snap it up.

Now personally I am not a coffee drinker, but himself is and Argos have an amazing range of coffee machines available here for all types of budgets.  Himself being American and quite particular about his coffee thinks the pod machines make terrible coffee and has no idea why they're so popular, but for a country so used to instant coffee I'd say they're quite the upgrade. De'Longhi are well known for their excellent espresso machines and it's nice to see some of them are now very affordable coming in under one hundred quid. Definitely some options there for the coffee lover on your list!

If I had to give up every kitchen gadget I owned save for one, it would be my santuko or chef's knife that I kept. A set of good knives will last a lifetime and is essential for any serious home cook.  Look for a good quality steel, German, Swiss or Japanese are always a good bet and most decent sets will have a very long or even lifetime guarantee. If you like funky coloured ones I hear rave reviews about the new ceramic knives that seem to be flooding the market as well. Again, look for a set that has a decent guarantee.

A few years ago we purchased a soda stream and I have to say it's such a fun gadget. The kids love it and myself and hubby have come up with some interesting cocktail mixers over the years as well. We absolutely love the cranberry raspberry flavour soda stream sells, but other than that we tend to make our own fruit-flavoured simple syrups and use carbonated water from the soda stream. We've had it about 3 years now and have had to replace the canister once a year on average. If your kids like fizzy drinks and you're looking for a healthier and cheaper alternative, this will really pay off! The NY Times recently had a great article on these unique kitchen gadgets.

I keep hearing a lot about slow cookers or crock pots of late. While I have one, I can say I don't use it that much and when I do, I'm usually underwhelmed. I suspect that is because I am at home all day and don't really see the point of over-cooking my food. But if I were still working and came home to a sumptuous smelling house and dinner just ready I don't think I would be complaining about overcooked beef!  If you work outside of the home these can be a brilliant investment and even though I'm not the biggest fan, I would still always want to have one. Being someone who cooks a lot with dried beans, the slow cooker has often saved the day when I realised I forgot to soak the beans overnight. It's also great as an additional appliance to keep things warm on oven-heavy holiday meals. I have been known to make the mash in advance and keep it in the slow cooker to stay warm!

Those are some of my favourites this year. What about you? What could you not live without in your kitchen and what would you love to see under the tree this year?
Thursday, December 12, 2013

Electronic Toys For Kids

With Christmas just a couple of weeks off, you (like me) are probably in high-stress mode, finishing off home decorations, preparing to host guests or cook meals, and, of course, finishing off your gift list! Particularly if you have young children in the picture, the shopping process can be very trying, as you want to find gifts that will make Christmas special for your little ones and keep them entertained and delighted for some time to come. And of course, you have to do it all within your budget!

Fortunately, the toy industry is alive and well, and always thriving this time of year. And what you may notice after a bit of searching is that even for young children, electronic toys are some of the most popular ones out there. We're not talking about gaming consoles, smartphones or cameras - those are for the older kids - but rather, fun and inventive toys that make for perfect Christmas gifts for toddlers and pre-teens. Just to help you get an idea of some of these trendy toy options, here are a few cute ones we're seeing at various stores.

Furby Boom
We all remember Furby - the strange but lovable furry little "pet" toy with various speaking capabilities and personality traits. It's an incredibly fun toy for children, and it's hung around for years now. Furby Boom is the latest version of the toy from Hasbro, and comes with new personalities, new colour schemes, and even an app component that adds a new dimension to playing with the toy.  This is on both the girls list... let's just hope it comes with volume control! :)

Nintendo DS
Arguably the current standard in handheld gaming, the Nintendo DS is a bit more kid-friendly than Sony's PSP line, offering some of the same playful Nintendo games that have been classics for years. Of course, different parents feel differently about introducing a handheld gaming device, but if you're open to the idea and your children would enjoy it, the Nintendo DS is a nice option to consider.  My girls have gotten great fun out of theirs and god knows it makes the 4 hour trip to my parents a lot more bearable.

Angry Bird Helicopter
Angry Birds seem to be just about everywhere these days. Having burst onto the scene in app gaming (with several of the most popular gaming apps we've ever seen), they're now something of a cultural phenomenon. The toy helicopter in the image of the iconic red "angry bird" offered at My Smart Buy is merely one more example of the explosive popularity of this cartoonish theme, but it's also a great toy for kids. Remote control helicopters, after all, are already very popular - throw in a popular character image, and it's ideal!  I'd say the husband might enjoy this one too!

Casio Mini Keyboard
Want a semi-educational gift that's also barrels of fun? A mini electric keyboard like this one from Toys R Us, is perfect! These days it's easier than ever for a kid to learn music at home (just find lessons online - it's shockingly easy), and this will give your child an activity to learn and improve at while having a blast with a new toy.  We're a pretty musical family and love the keyboard. It's even great for the little man who gets hours of fun just banging the keys!


Monday, November 11, 2013

Chicken and Dumplings

Winter is well and truly here. Time to break out the comfort food.  This is more chicken and biscuits (of the American variety) than chicken and dumplings, but the biscuits are baked on top of the casserole.  It's absolutely delicious and frugal as well.  My kids and all their friends go nuts for this one. 


This would also be great for all the leftover turkey and stock you're bound to have after Christmas or Thanksgiving.  When I don't have stock on hand I just use a bouillon cube and it's just fine.

If you're not up for making biscuits or just feeling lazy as I often am, the base casserole will be delicious with a sheet of puff pastry over it too.

Ingredients

For the casserole:

  • 1 lb leftover chicken/turkey, chopped
  • 3 large carrots, cubed
  • 3 stalks of celery, diced
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 4 tbsp flour
  • sprig of thyme, chopped (or 1/2 tsp dried thyme)
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup cream
  • handful of frozen peas
  • handful fresh parsley, chopped
  • salt and pepper 
Pre-heat oven to 180C/350F.

Saute the carrots, onion and celery in the butter until they are beginning to soften.  Stir in thyme.  Sprinkle with flour and cook for about a minute stirring to incorporate the flour.  Slowly pour in the stock, cream and milk and whisk in until a thick sauce forms. Bring to boil, reduce heat to a simmer.  If the sauce is too thick, add more cream or milk to thin.  Stir in chicken and peas. Allow to simmer for about five minutes while you make the biscuits.  Stir in the parsley at the end and season with salt and pepper.  





For the biscuits:
  • 2.25 cups plain flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tbsp fresh chopped parsley
Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl.  Add butter and mix with two knives or a pastry cutter until it resembles breadcrumbs.  Stir in the parsley and milk to make a sticky dough.

Pour the filling into a 9x13 pyrex dish or something similar.  Break off large tablespoons of the biscuit dough and plop on top of the chicken mixture.  I usually get about 12 biscuits.

Bake for half an hour or until golden brown on top and dumplings are cooked through.  Allow to stand for about 10 minutes before serving.




Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Cheaters Quiche

Have I told you about the 1 cup quiche?  This is my new favourite recipe ever!  Perhaps it's constantly having fresh eggs, perhaps it's the sheer lack of thought or effort required or perhaps it's the fact that it's damn yummy, but this is truly a great one to have up your sleeves.  Perfect to whip together if you have unexpected visitors and absolutely the business for picnics!


This isn't really a quiche in the traditional sense as there's no fiddling with pastry required. It uses flour and the flour sort of sinks to the bottom creating a type of crust.  You can use any filling you want in this and it serves about ten people. It's as good cold and keeps great for a few days in the fridge. I freeze slices individually and pop them out in the morning for a nice lunch later.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup self-raising flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup grated cheese
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 pkg bacon lardons
  • 1 pepper, diced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • chopped fresh herbs (parsley, dill, chives, whatever you like)
  • salt and pepper to season
  • 1 tomato, sliced
Grease a baking dish with butter. Pre-heat oven to 200C.

Mix all ingredients except tomato in a large bowl. Yes, that's really it.

Pour into greased baking dish and top with tomato slices.

Bake for 45-50 minutes until firm and cooked through. Slice and serve warm or cold.









Monday, October 7, 2013

Weird and Wonderful Flavours: A sambo and a cake

I should really learn to stop promising things, because when it comes to anything bloggy I am utterly and completely useless. But here it is a bit late and I've combined it with my favourite wrap. Both are rather unconventional, but I assure you both are delicious, I'm munching on a wrap as I type this, om nom nom!

Thai Veggie Wraps
This is one of my all time favourite lunches, you can add meat if you like, but I think it's flavourful enough with just veggies and the seasonings. It's about as Thai as Guinness, but I needed a name - authentic it may not be - but delicious it is!

Powered up with some superfood goodness of nuts and avocados, this is a strangely weird but wonderful wrap. I love food with contrasting flavours and textures and this one ticks all the boxes. Sweet, savoury, smooth, crunchy and colourful there's something for everyone.

I find different cultures like different styles of sandwich. For instance Americans like to add cheese to everything (not just sandwiches for that matter) and if that floats your boat, go for it.  Here in Ireland sandwiches are often preferred toasted and this is actually delicious toasted as well, but because I don't like wilted rocket I add that after I toast it.  A great trick for toasting is to wrap your wraps up tightly in foil and get your iron out and pop it on full temp. Place it on the wrap packet for a few minutes, switch sides and do the same. Voila, toasted wrap! :) But I digress... onto this delicious madness!

Ingredients:

  • 2 wraps of your choice
  • 1 tbsp cream cheese
  • 1/2 tsp thai curry paste
  • 1 tbsp mago chutney
  • 1 tomato, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 avocado, thinly sliced
  • 10 thin slices cucumber
  • handful cashews
  • few slices red onion
  • salt and pepper, to taste
Spread the cream cheese on your wraps, then spread the thai curry paste and chutney on top, mixing the three as you spread.

Top with veggies and cashews, season, wrap up, toast (optional) and enjoy! 

---------------------------------------------------

Grapefruit Cake
We ate it all before I took a picture of it, but think loaf cake. It's ridiculously moist and delicious and I would highly suggest doubling the recipe as you will want more. I made one to bring over to a friend of mine who was under the weather, when I got home I promptly made another one for us! It's an easy recipe and perfect when Aldi are selling grapefruits for 39c! I got this recipe from a friend of mine Bryony and I am so glad I did, I've adjusted slightly after baking it a few times. I suspect any citrus fruit would work just as well, but the grapefruit is so unique, it really surprises people!

Ingredients:

For the cake-

  • 1.5 cups plain flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup natural yoghurt*
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tbsp grapefruit zest
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
For the syrup-
  • 1/2 cup grapefruit juice
  • 3 tbsp sugar
For the glaze-
  • 1 cup icing sugar
  • 2 tbsp grapefruit juice
Pre-heat oven to 180 and grease and flour a 2lb loaf tin.

Mix dry ingredients and set aside. Beat eggs together with yoghurt and zest and pour into dry ingredients to make a thick batter.  Stir in oil.

Bake for approximately 50 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.

Allow to cool in tin for ten minutes.  Make syrup by heating grapefruit juice and sugar until sugar dissolves.  Using a skewer make some small holes in the cake and pour syrup on top.  Allow to cool completely.

Whisk icing sugar and remaining juice for glaze until smooth and pour over cake.



Thursday, October 3, 2013

National Breastfeeding Week: Thoughts on the Stigma

My little man nursing at just a few days old.
This week is National Breastfeeding Week. It's a subject near and dear to my heart as regular readers will know.  I'm a bit of a strange one, because I'm one of the few who biologically cannot exclusively breastfeed... but did anyways!  I thought I'd write a bit about my feelings on the stigma of breastfeeding in Ireland and the prevailing view on breasts as a sexual object versus a functional biological one.

I love that we have a week highlighting this beautiful act of motherhood, but it's a lifelong battle in Ireland which never ceases to baffle me.

Just looking at some of the reactions of people on twitter says a lot about Irish culture and the way women are really viewed.  If boobs are seen purely as a sexual thing, what does it say for us? For a culture who is rapidly rejecting religion and all the backwards theories that comes with it and finally backing science and natural selection, it's amazing to me that we can be so close minded about this.  I wonder where people think the human race evolved from if it wasn't for boobs. Formula wasn't even an option 200 years ago, yet somehow we managed to survive.

I would urge every woman to examine her feelings on this issue and wonder why and where those feelings evolved. If boobs are only for our partners to play with, what does that say about us? What does that say about our view of the role of women? Where did such views come from? Whether you choose to breastfeed or not, you really need to think about this. Why should women be made feel uncomfortable or in extreme cases shunned for doing something their bodies were made to do? Why is it ok for women to flaunt their assets in the media or out on a Friday night but not to use them how they were actually meant to be used?  Why is it that educated women feel this way? Why is it that 50 Shades of shite is so popular among women? Why is it that we are our own worst enemies?  Yes, Christianity has a lot to answer for shaming women and their bodies, but even in some of the most oppressive countries towards women today breastfeeding is a non-issue. Nursing burqas are big business I tell you! :)

All of this bears thinking about and pondering... above are just some of my thoughts and there are many more where that came from but I will spare you!  Check back tomorrow for my new favourite cake recipe... Grapefruit! Yes, it's worth it!

Check out Mama.ie for the rest of the posts on this special week.

Oh and now... a competition for the week that's in it!



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Tuesday, August 6, 2013

So You Want to Breastfeed in Ireland?

This week the Irish Parenting Bloggers are doing a blog march for World Breastfeeding Week.  There have been some amazing posts so far and I encourage you to browse!

So you want to breastfeed in Ireland, eh?  Well here are some home truths from some one who's been there and done that despite being one of the less than 1% who cannot physically breastfeed

First thing you need to know and probably won't like to hear.... the system and culture is set up so you are almost destined to fail.  What do I mean by this?  I mean that support in the medical system is scant at best and when it's there you have to actively seek it out.  Nine out of ten times your PHN, GP, Midwife and even some hospital lactation consultants are probably not up to date on breastfeeding best practice and advice. I find that at the first sign of trouble they are wont to offer a bottle as a solution.

This does not stop with the medical profession. Our closest support -partners, mothers, the dreaded-mother-in-law, friends, sisters, cousins - are often wont to offer similar advice.  When you have a baby, every one has an opinion and though usually well meant, these opinions can be anything but helpful.  Sylda discusses some all too familiar scenarios in her post this week. Most of our mothers and mothers-in-laws did not breastfeed.  Any attempt you have to do things differently is often met with "sure didn't you/partner turn out grand?" and the misguided assumption that because you are choosing to do something differently from them, you are disparaging the choices they made. Our culture is obsessed with babies being "good" and people are genuinely not familiar with how a biologically normal (i.e. breastfed) baby behaves. Even on my third child on the dreaded day three my own mother kept saying things like "Is that baby feeding AGAIN!?" *sigh*

So if you really want to breastfeed, how do you get around this classic Irish setup for failure?  I spoke with some of the amazingly knowledgeable and experienced women on the Extended Breastfeeding Ireland Facebook Group to get some advice and ideas! 

1. Do your research!

When you decide you want to breastfeed, research ahead of time.  The usual pregnancy books tend to just gloss over breastfeeding, with some of them subtly undermining it.  Learn about the realities of what to expect.  Many Irish women give up in the first two weeks, because they truly are the hardest.  Breastfed newborns feed a LOT! People are not used to this and will give you bad advice.  Breastfed babies will also lose a lot more weight after they're born. This can also be added to if you receive fluids during labour. Medical professionals tend to freak out when they see this weight loss or jaundice and immediately advise supplementation.  Supplementation this early will really hurt your supply and overall journey, so you need to research ahead of time and have a plan in place for if and when this happens.  Get yourself a copy of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding.  It's published by La Leche League and is a phenomenal resource.  Get it ahead of time and read all about the early days and what to expect. Keep it for when after the baby is born as you will refer to it many times.  Most Irish libraries have a copy.  Jack Newman's book is also an excellent resource, especially if you run into problems.  His online handouts are exceptional as well. Familiarise yourself with all this information.  Kellymom is a fantastic online resource that will tackle any myths you might encounter or problems that might occur.  Read read read.... have realistic expectations and try to find out about other Irish women's experiences and how they dealt with and overcame problems both physical and with the system.

2. Get Support in Advance

I cannot stress this one enough. Go to a breastfeeding group before baby is born!  Please, if you do nothing else on this list, this one could make or break it for you.  I always thought these meetings would be full of hippies and "breastapo", but guess what, they are all just normal mammies like you doing their best.  The advice, support and camraderie received in these groups is second to none, but most importantly if you go to a few meetings in advance you will have a built in support group when baby comes along.  On my second daughter the PHN was telling me to do things that didn't sound right and I rang up one of the leaders from the group I'd been going to for advice.  She was over to my house within an hour popping the kettle on and helping me with latching, sending me to bed with Ciara and watching Ella while we nursed.  Amazing!  Not to say they will all be like this, but those first few weeks are fraught with emotions and hormones and even when you are well read and think you are well prepared sometimes the pressure from a PHN  or GP can have you doubting yourself.  A phone call to someone who has been where you are is often enough to give you the confidence and wherewithal to carry on. The meetings are informative and fun and can be a great way to make friends, especially if you are (or will be) a new Mum.  If you can't get out, find a local group on Facebook or join the absolutely phenomenal EBI group, the women of which seem to be able to help with just about anything and most importantly give you the reassurance that what you are facing is normal and fixable!

3. Educate and inform your family

If you are planning on breastfeeding it is imperative that you inform and educate your family and close support.  You need to prepare your partner especially well.  Let them know realistically that you will be out of commission for a few weeks while you establish breastfeeding. Let them know that you will need help - emotional, practical and physical. Let them know what to expect, that breastfed babies feed often in the first few weeks and that sleeping through the night is not a goal. Make sure your partner is aware of your preferences for birth as well. If you do end up in a situation where you cannot speak for yourself, he/she needs to be able to be your voice.  If you want to breastfeed they need to be able to advocate on your behalf. They should be aware of the various arguments medical professionals might use to support supplementing and be able to counter them, if so desired. Talk to your Mum/Mother-in-law about breastfeeding.  Maybe you'll be lucky and find out they did it and support you, but if not, make sure you tell them that their support is imperative and suggesting bottles or routines will not help.  Keep them busy with other methods of helping such as laundry, cleaning and cooking meals. Mums love to feel useful, make it happen!  Make sure your partner is on board here too, if his/her Mum is talking to them on the sly or trying to tell them you are doing things wrong, it can often reverberate back to you and have an impact on your relationship and emotions. Make sure they know where you stand and are on the same page.

4. Assume you can do it!

This one came up a few times on EBI.  Assume you can do it.  This is what your boobs are made for! Very few people cannot physically breastfeed (I should know, I am one), yet many seem to think they can't due to poor education and bad advice.  There are very few breastfeeding problems that can't be fixed with a bit of education and knowledge and a good lactation consultant (note: the hospital ones are not necessarily the best - if needed, I would recommend seeking out a private one, fees can generally be claimed back through insurance.)  Don't listen to negative stories and keep in mind that the majority of people who say they couldn't breastfeed or didn't make enough milk are most likely misinformed and received bad advice, a classic system failure.

5. Follow your instinct

The best advice I can give any parent is to go with your gut.  If it feels right, do it, naysayers be damned. If someone gives you advice, even a GP or PHN and it doesn't feel right, get a second opinion.  If a routine feels right for you, go for it, if you want to carry your baby, go for it, if you prefer a buggy, go for it.  Don't let anyone tell you what's right for you.  Listen to your baby, listen to your heart and you will find the right path.  Some people are of the persuasion that if you breastfeed you must co-sleep, baby-led wean, baby wear, cloth nappy etc etc.  That's not the case. It's not an all inclusive lifestyle. Mothers from all walks of life and all forms of parenting backgrounds breastfeed, which is precisely why I love the diverse support meetings so much.    Do what is right for you, end of story!

6. Don't feel guilty

One of the wisest things my mother ever told me was that no one else can make you feel guilty.  Guilt is a choice, a choice that brings you and people around you down. If you did the best you could, then so be it. Accept that and don't feel bad, be happy with what you achieved and be happy for other mama's who achieved differently. If you do feel guilty - examine why - don't let it hamper you. You are an amazing mama and whether you lasted a day, a week, a month or a year, every single drop made a difference to your baby and you. Don't assume that just because you see or hear someone promoting breastfeeding that they are judging or undermining your decision to wean early or not even start, because as a self-proclaimed "lactivist" I can assure you, we are not.  What works for one mum may not for another and the most important thing is that you do what is best for YOU and your baby!

What other pieces of advice would you add? I'd love to hear from you in the comments!

This post is part of the Irish Parenting Bloggers BlogMarch in support of World Breastfeeding Week running from 1st to 7th August 2013. You can read more about World Breastfeeding Week 2013 here

The Irish Parenting Bloggers’ focus is on community support, particularly in the form of peer-to-peer support and the BlogMarch features our varied breastfeeding experiences, including our experiences with breastfeeding support in Ireland. The full list of posts is available on mama.ie here.
Thursday, July 25, 2013

How to Prepare Your Child for the First Year of School

You may be a ball of nerves with the thought of your little one beginning school, but to your young child, starting at a new school in a new environment can be even more intimidating. Thus, it’s important to adequately prepare your child for his or her first year of primary school in order to help alleviate some stress and make him or her feel more at ease and confident about the big changes that are about to occur. To make the transition a smooth one, it’s key to sit down and have a chat with your child in order to prepare him or her for this new, somewhat scary, significant part of life. By helping your child get mentally and emotionally prepared for what’s ahead, you can help develop a positive attitude and love for learning, making this new change a happy and positive one.

Discuss What Your Child Should Expect

Prior to the new school year, you should begin to focus on different aspects of school life. Have an open dialogue about school and encourage your child to be more social—take him or her to new places to try new activities so that he or she can become used to meeting new people and trying new activities, which can help him or her get better adjusted to the new learning environment. Additionally, ask your child what he or she thinks about going to school and if he or she feels scared or nervous. This is also a great opportunity to get feedback from your child about starting school as this will encourage your child to ask questions. You may want to organize a play date with the families of other children who will be attending the same school as your child so that he or she will know other children before school begins.

Encourage Independence

Have your child do more things on his or her own, such as dressing, going to the toilet, and opening drink boxes. Although it may be difficult to let go yourself, giving your child more independence by allowing him or her to do more things without your assistance will be a major help once school begins. Ask your child to assist you at home, the grocery store, or other places. Remember it’s important to remind our children that they are growing up and must be able to do things on their own, especially at school.

Develop a School Routine

At least a week before school begins, show your child where the school is and describe how you will get there each day. Have your child accompany you when you pick up his or her school uniform (I recommend M&S, have tried other cheaper options, but M&S can often last for two years and did I mention no ironing???) and other school supplies. This will get your child excited about the prospect of starting school. Most importantly, go through a trial run of the first day of school. Show your child how to pack his or her school bag and discuss what he or she should expect at lunch time. Again, communication is key, so talk with your child about what will happen once the school day ends, particularly the arrangements for after-school care.
Monday, July 8, 2013

Tipperary Roller Girls

Cross Post from Fat Deb Slim, my weight loss journey blog.

When I was a kid, I went to a roller derby exhibition show, in Flint, Michigan.  I had little idea what the hell was going on, but I knew I loved it.  I wanted more than anything to become a roller derby girl.  I used to go skating as often as possible at the roller arena where I lived in MI. I loved it so much but then I got older, moved back to Europe, life became a lot more complicated.  I sort of forgot about that childhood dream.

Then a few years ago I saw Whip-It and it all came flooding back. I made a note to order some skates and gave himself a lot of very prolific hints for birthday presents, but alas they never did appear.  Last week I was in Tesco looking at hair dye and I saw a wicked purple colour and thought to myself, if I were a roller girl, I'd totally do that.  When I got home I noticed an acquaintance of mine had a roller derby picture as her profile picture on facebook and when I clicked through and realised there was roller derby in Ireland I almost freaked.  I was kindof bummed at the same time because my nearest league would be Waterford and that's a pretty far drive when you've got three kids and have to find a babysitter etc. I clicked through to the Irish Roller Derby page only to find out that a league was forming right here in Tipp!  The Tipperary Roller Girls were recruiting!!! I couldn't believe it.  Contacted them and it's a go!

Special Delivery
I ordered my skates and equipment and went for my first skate in years last Friday.  Let me tell you, it is NOT like riding a bicycle. I looked like a deranged fawn I'm sure, but towards the end of the session I was getting the hang of it. Was so grateful I'd been running the last few weeks and built up a bit of stamina.  I went out again on Sunday to a parking lot in Clonmel and had a bit of fun, but the heat with all that padding was unreal! Managed to get turning down and only fell a few times!

I went to see the Dublin Roller Derby bout this weekend and was soooo sore after Friday.  I was beginning to doubt myself as a bigger girl, would I ever get the hang of it.  But it was immediately apparent from the teams playing that size did not have to be  a hindrance.  I was amazed by the skill and talent of all shapes and sizes and couldn't wait to get back on my skates. 

So in terms of my weight loss plans, this could not have come at a better time. Practice is on Tuesday and Thursday the opposite of my running days. This means I'll be getting proper workouts five days a week.  Plus I've already started some core and strength workouts.  Roller derby stance consists of a very low almost permanent squat so I've been adding squats in daily as well as some ab, push-up and arm work.  I have wanted this my whole life and it's finally happening, so I am not going to screw it up. We won't even talk about the investment involved in the equipment! :D 

If you're in the area and interested, get in touch with TRG, all skill levels most welcome! We're in this together! <3
Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Holiday Review: Bluestone Wales

Early last month I had the most amazing opportunity to review Bluestone Resort in Wales.  We had a holiday planned last summer in Wales and our car broke down the day before we were to catch the ferry. Travel Insurance wouldn't cover us (they'd only get us on the next ferry, which was impossible without a car) and we lost every penny we'd paid on our holiday not to mention the cost of repairing the car.  The kids were devastated and there was nothing we could really do as all our spending money went on the car repair.  2012 went down a pretty shitty year as a result.  Having just moved I had figured a holiday was out for this year, but then this opportunity came up and I felt like it was karmic justice or something.

Tenby Beach
We took Stena Line from Rosslare to Fishguard.  It was a fairly uneventful journey and we had a lovely and reasonably priced breakfast on board in the Stena Plus lounge.  The lounge was great and I would definitely pay the money for it next time we travel on the ferry.  There were movies for the kids, a kids snack table, colouring supplies and even the ability to borrow Nintendo DS consoles to play while onboard.  They were kept very busy! My only complaint is the lack of baby changing facilities on that level, seems like a very simple thing to rememdy (install a changing table on the wall) as anyone with a terrible toddler knows carrying them up two flights of stairs with a stinking nappy is no fun at all!

Mark at the Adventure Centre
Bluestone was less than an hour from the port and is a simple and straightforward drive. We arrived and checked in but told we couldn't actually go to our cabin until 4pm.  This was the worst part about the whole trip. My little man had been awake since 5am and needed a nap so bad it wasn't even funny. I asked if an exception could be made but apparently not.  The weather was scorching and I was very worried about him getting overheated/tired and having nowhere to put him down or just relax for a few minutes.  We ended up walking around the village and checking out what was on offer.  The kids all played in the adventure centre for a good while and really enjoyed it.  There was lots for all ages. A baby play centre, bouncy castle, games etc with bigger slides and fun places for older kids.  There were also some excellent rides for the more adventurous kids and adults, high ropes, the "drop" and a giant swing.  It was very cool and we had to drag the kids out!  We walked around the village which is lovely, there's a bakery which sells the most amazing local ice-cream, a pub, an excellent treehouse playground in the centre of the village which was supervised and allowed parents to chill with a coffee at one of the picnic tables overlooking it.  The kids were quite literally in heaven!

The girls after their spa day!
We finally got to our cabin at 4 and were stunned to find it well kitted out and beyond our expectations.  Beautiful bathrooms, comfy beds, two flatscreen TV's - one upstairs with beanbags for the kids - and one in the main living room downstairs.  There was a patio with a picnic table, a beautiful kitchen with everything you could possibly need and more.  There was a cot and highchair in the house and it was plenty spacious for our family of five.  The showers were strong and we had absolutely no complaints.  It really is an amazing base for a family, you can really feel at home.

Medieval Night at The Yard
We headed for dinner that night at the buffet in The Yard, it was lovely.  I'm a food snob, so I wasn't overly impressed, but then I never have been at a buffet.  It's standard mass produced food, but the kids all love it and it looked like everyone was enjoying themselves.  It's a lovely setting and no one bats an eye at the noise or mess your kids are making. Really felt family-oriented and the kids enjoyed the play area.  We headed to a welcome night afterwards which featured some family entertainment.  I groaned inwardly as we went, but I was pleasantly surprised.  The entertainers were absolutely brilliant with the kids and quite talented to boot.  Being a classically trained singer, I am quite critical, but was extremely impressed with the quality of the voices and music.  The kids were completely engaged and it put us in a great mood for the week to come.

Welsh Night Kids Entertainment
The next day we went to check out the Blue Lagoon, an incredible water park and pool next to the resort which is free to use for guests.  The best part is that from 9-10am, it's closed to the public and open to guests only.  We had the whole place to ourselves most mornings, the kids had a ball.  The slides are brilliant and there is a wave pool that goes on every hour that had everyone squealing.  I didn't bring the little man to the pool as I was worried about watching all of them, as they're not the best of swimmers, but if I had have been more comfortable, I know he would have absolutely loved the toddler and baby areas, they looked like loads of fun.  This was the kids favourite part of the week.

Mini Safari
We were booked in for all sorts of activities some of which suited, some which didn't.  The staff are absolutely wonderful, everyone we encountered was extremely friendly and accommodating. It was absolutely no trouble to switch the kids into activities they would like better.  They got to go pond-dipping, try archery and go on a mini-jeep safari.  Our second night was Welsh night and featured some fabulous food (beef wellington, yum!) and entertainment.  Again I couldn't get over the quality of the entertainment, the kids were quite literally mesmerised. A bluegrass band took over later and they were incredible, extremely talented and totally fun.  Would have loved to stay longer, but tired kids are tired kids! 

Pond Dipping on the Lake
The girls got to have a spa day which they adored.  They got their nails and toes painted as well as getting their hair and make-up done.  The ladies at the spa were just lovely and treated them like princesses.  I thought the pricing was very reasonable for what they got as well.  On the last day I to got to enjoy the spa and tried out all the various steam rooms, saunas, pool and so forth.  It was so relaxing and lovely to have a few minutes to myself.  Medieval night was another highlight for the kids.  We had a medieval banquet at The Yard (more buffet food) and they were entertained by a show that they absolutely loved! Again the entertainers impressed and got everyone involved, have to say I quite enjoyed it myself.

Mark at Tenby Beach
We managed to cram in a morning at the most beautiful beach in Tenby.  It was just lovely, the girls had a blast playing in the sand and splashing in the waves.  Mark had never been to a beach and really enjoyed it.   It's a beautiful blue flag beach only 15 minutes away, well worth the visit if you can squeeze it in.  Again the staff were so helpful with directions and getting us there.  Such a beautiful place on all levels.



The return on Stena Line was great as well. The stewardess at Stena Plus Lounge remembered us and had saved a lovely area for us, which I thought was a nice touch.  Again lunch in the lounge was delicious and quite reasonable. Such an easy way to travel compared to flying. No long waits, full service, able to move around etc etc. No complaints at all.

It truly was a jam packed week and so much fun for all of us.  There truly is something for everyone there and I know for a fact we will be going back next year!  I love that it's so family oriented and the kids are catered for in every aspect.  It's rare you find somewhere where all the staff are so wonderful.  I really have no valid complaints at all other than the delay with check-in.  When we go again, I will not be doing the all-inclusive option, as I did feel overall the food was a bit of a letdown.  It was stodgy and not the healthiest and I think you'd be better off booking a few of the theme nights but going self-catering otherwise.  For any family looking for an easy holiday, there is no doubt in my mind that this is the perfect place.  If you stay for a couple of weeks, there is so much to do in the local area as well that would really make for an amazing break.

Disclaimer: Travel, lodging and activities were provided at no charge, but this review is all my own opinion and observation. 

Edit: I've since been informed that there IS an early check-in option at Bluestone, which if you're on that ferry is definitely worth availing of! :)
Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Vanilla Pavlova



Would you believe I've never made Pavlova?  I've always loved it but never actually made it.  I remember as a teenager going to my second cousins wedding and being delighted to hear that the wedding cake was a tower of pavlovas!  I thought it was genius and decided that day to do it for my wedding, but alas I got married in America and it was not an option.  This recipe turned out to be pretty simple, although all the whipping is time consuming and I cannot imagine doing it without a mixer of some kind.  It turned out just perfectly crunchy on the outside and marshmallow-y on the inside.  Top it with whatever fruit you have on hand. I was hoping to use passion fruit as well, but I couldn't get any yesterday.  Berries are particularly delicious.  This would also work very well with a mascarpone topping.
Ingredients: 
For the meringue:
  • 5 egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1.25 cups caster sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp white vinegar
  • 1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped out
  • 1.5 tbsp cornflour (corn starch)
For the topping:
  • 1 carton of whipping cream
  • 2-3 tbsp caster sugar to taste
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • Fruit of your choice
Beat the eggs until stiff and slowly add in sugar.  Beat for 5-10 minutes until very stiff shiny peaks form.  Add vanilla, vinegar and vanilla beans and beat until all combined.  Fold in corn flour.

Line a baking sheet with a piece of parchment.  Use a plate to trace a circle on the parchment.  Dump the meringue into the center of the circle and spread out to meet the edges.

Bake at 120C for 60-90 minutes to desired doneness. Allow to cool with oven door ajar.

Once cool, whip cream with vanilla and sugar and spread on top of meringue.  Decorate with fruit and serve immediately!

Enjoy after a lovely BBQ with some sangria, as pictured right! ;)
Monday, June 10, 2013

Money Monday: Keeping Hens

Three of our girls getting adjusted.
Well I've finally lost it. I got chickens!  It's something I've always wanted to do, but didn't think the neighbours in our previous estate would appreciate it.  Since moving to the country it just kept niggling at me and when the landlord gave us the all clear I just had to go for it.  Assurances by neighbours around here that they are easy to keep helped assuage himself's misgivings and here we are.  
What does this have to do with money you ask?  Well, as an avid cook and baker I would easily go through 2.5 dozen eggs a week.  This works out to almost ten euro a week, as I would not negotiate on eggs, free-range is the only way to go in my book, both by taste and ethical standards.  So that's over 520 euro a year. The chickens cost me 50 euro and the coop cost 200. I got it as part of a starter kit from Farm Fowl in Wicklow. The feed is cheap and lasts for a long time and they munch on scraps from the kitchen as well. If they all lay daily they have paid for themselves in six months and will live for about four years.  Granted there will be times when the laying tapers off, but overall I think it's a sound investment that has many added benefits!

Lawn fertiliser for one!  We move the coop every couple of days and it's a bit of a mess when we move it, but within a few days it has turned a lush green and is quite distinctive from the rest of the grass. Himself has a grid pattern going now and is determined to get the lawn looking great with the chickens!

The eggs are FABULOUS!  You notice the difference as soon as you crack them.  The yellow of the yolk is so vibrant and the white just sticks around the yellow, it doesn't run out and this results in the most perfect poached eggs (stay tuned for eggs benedict recipe!) 
Ella finds the first egg!
The joy the kids get from the chickens is wonderful. They think they are so fun and love watching them and the little man loves chasing them around and giggles hysterically at them.  Not to mention the learning experiences involved. The girls have been very helpful with feeding and watering them and are learning some important lessons in animal husbandry. 

I find that personally it means I am outside a lot more during the day which is always a good thing and has prompted me to do some gardening and yard work that I would normally avoid. All in all it's been a fabulous experience and should pay for itself at the end of the year.  They are really no trouble and a wonderful addition to the garden. I would highly recommend it, if it's feasible for your family, no regrets!

Do you raise hens or ducks or some other animals for food purposes? I'd love to hear about it!  Any tips for the newbie hen keeper? I'm all ears!

Happy Monday! x

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Key Lime Pie

Key lime pie is the easiest pie ever, I always feel like a total cheat when people go on about how good it is, it's my husband's favourite and I don't think he will be too impressed when there's none left for him tonight!

This is a standard recipe that is in most cookbooks, I add lime zest for added tang and because I can't get graham crackers in Ireland I use a pack of Lincoln biscuits. Easy peasy and done in no time.  It's much better chilled, so bake the night before if you can!

Ingredients:
  • 1 pack lincoln biscuits (shortbread will work too)
  • 3-4 tbsp melted butter
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup (4 fl. oz.) fresh squeezed lime juice
  • zest of two limes
  • Whipped cream to garnish
  • Lime wedges, to garnish
Pre-heat oven to 175C / 325 F

Use a food processor to blitz the biscuits into crumbs (a bag and rolling pin will also work). Add the melted butter and press into a pie dish.  Bake for 15 minutes.

Lightly beat the egg yolks and add the condensed milk, lime juice and lime zest.  Whisk until combined, it will thicken.

When crust is done, allow to cool for a minute or two and pour in the filling.  Bake for fifteen minutes.  Remove and allow to come to room temperature.  It will get more solid as it cools.  Refrigerate for 6-8 hours or overnight.

Whip cream and spread on top, garnish with lime wedges and additional lime zest if wanted.


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Fast Diet Update

If you've found your way here from the Indo, welcome! I'm still a bit in shock that my weight was published in a National Paper, but with a few glasses of wine I am sure I will recover! :)

I have now lost a total of 20lb on the fast diet and still love it.  I schedule my fast days on Mondays and Wednesdays when I am busy with the kids activities and don't really have time to think about eating.  I also make sure to cook something for them that I don't really like, like Spaghetti Bolognaise or Shepherd's Pie.  I hold off on eating in the morning as long as I can and will then have an omelette or a couple of mini-quiches or my healthy asian soup

After the kids are fed and in bed, I will worry about dinner, as I find I get most nibble-ish at night.  If I have my dinner later, around 8:30pm or so, I find that I don't have as much of a problem.  I will often treat myself to Bang Bang Prawns, which is so damn good I feel like I'm cheating, or I'll make a big salad with cos lettuce, chopped apple, cucumber, tomato, red onions and enough chicken to finish off my 500 calories. I use a fat free low-cal dressing.

I switch to skim milk in my tea on fast days and drink a lot of it as well as some herbal or green tea, which keeps me from snacking and keeps me hydrated.  All in all, the day goes quickly and when you know you can eat anything the next day, it's completely doable.

I find I don't eat anything the next day though and actually eat less than normal. I'm just not as hungry. The strange thing was that during the month where I had to pack/move/unpack/have mother-in-law here from America/do Easter and be generally ridiculously busy I didn't diet.  I expected to step on the scale and be up a lot. Nothing. Not an ounce. It was very strange, not like other diets at all where you usually gain it all back and more. I think it really does alter your metabolism for the better.  Energy wise I feel great and much sharper mentally.

For fast days I use My Fitness Pal to track my calories on my iPhone and if I am feeling nibbly I use my soda stream and make some fizzy water and flavour it with lemon or lime juice and it feels like a refreshing treat.  I really see no downside and I have been on every diet ever invented since I was eight, yes eight, years old! 

So that's the latest, I don't anticipate stopping anytime soon, have a ways to go and feel for once in my lifetime that it's something I can do! If you're also on the diet, what are some of your tips and tricks?  Feel free to ask questions too, the more support and help we can get, the better we'll all do!  Here's to a happy and healthy 2013! :)




Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Silent Killer: World Meningitis Day 2013

When I was in high school there was a meningitis outbreak.  As teenagers we thought this was great craic as we got a week off school and had to take pills that made our pee go funny colours.  Being the selfish teenagers we were very few of us spared a few thoughts for the three girls who were struggling in hospital while the rest of us enjoyed the time off.  Thankfully they recovered and there were no further outbreaks and meningitis was put out of my mind until Ella was born nine years ago.

With precious first born syndrome in full swing with her, any time there was a slight fever, the M word was at the back of my mind. It's still there with the other two these days, albeit not in such an alarmist manner.  Today is World Meningitis Day. It's a good day to remind ourselves of the symptoms and what to be aware of and look out for.

There is a free 24 hour helpline if you are ever in doubt, it's totally worth making use of.  1800 41 33 44 stick it in your phone and don't be afraid to use it.  You can't be too careful with this illness and time is of the essence.  The service is there, use it.

To learn more about meningitis and it's symptoms, treatment and implications check out the Meningitis: Keep Watching website.

This video is another somber reminder of how important it is to keep watch on our babies.







Meningitis: Keep Watching Ireland’ is a new campaign launched by Meningitis Research Foundation Ireland with support from Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics Limited, encouraging parents to remain vigilant for the signs and symptoms of the disease.
Monday, April 22, 2013

Money Monday: 10 Ways to Reduce Your Household Spending

BudgetToday - in an effort to get me blogging more often and offer some help in these tough times - starts a new feature called Money Monday! 

I haven't talked much about budgeting here, but it's something I've learned much about in recent years.  The Celtic Tiger bit this family in the ass as much as it did anyone else.  Mostly it was our own fault but a few years ago we realised we were in trouble and got a plan together to pay off our debt. It has been hard. We got rid of one car and my husband cycled to work. We haven't taken a holiday since 2007 and we axed health insurance. We cut all non-essential spending and got a big lesson in day to day frugal living.

We essentially pay rent twice, once to our landlord and once to our debt. The good news is there is a light at the end of the tunnel.  We will have our debt paid off in the latter half of this year and I thought it might be interesting to reflect back on some of the changes that made substantial differences to our savings! Hopefully there might be some ideas you can apply to your own situation. If you're lucky enough not to be feeling the pinch, perhaps it's a good idea to look at your finances anyways.  When we pay off our debt there will be a huge portion of disposable income again but we plan on putting most of it away. They say you should have a six month emergency fund (as in six months worth of salaries) available at any given time, so our next step will be to build that up.  Then of course there's the pipe dream of building our own house some day. Time will tell!

So here you go, ten things that helped us cut spending, from the small to the large. Some will be obvious, some not so much.  I plan on continuing this with a series of posts on frugal meals, menus and ideas. Hope it helps!

1. Evaluate your Insurance Policies
Check all your insurance policies. Are you getting the best rates? Shopping around on insurance can save bundles. I've found No Nonsense to be the best for car insurance for us and AA will generally beat anyone on home/contents insurance.  

Make sure that you are not over insured. This can greatly increase your premiums. Has your car decreased in value? Then update your policy to reflect this. Remember they will only pay out the market value at the time of an accident, so it's not worth paying extra for something you won't get.  The same goes for contents.  It's worth making a list of what you own and it's replacement cost. We found we were over-insuring by almost thirty thousand euro.

Look into increasing your excesses.  Do you have an emergency fund or money set aside and available?  If so, it's worth considering an excess increase.  This can drastically reduce your premiums.  If you have a thousand euro available at any given time, increase your excess to that amount and watch the savings come in on your premiums.

Do you need all your insurance policies? We cancelled our health insurance, which I realise is not an option for everyone, but given my husband's recent treatment with the highest VHI company cover, (he wasn't treated any different than public patients, no private room, priority or anyting) and it was not worth forking out the money for the rest of us (his company pays for his) as thankfully, we are relatively healthy to begin with.

2. Check your bank fees
It's no secret in this country that the banks are racketeers when it comes to fees, but there's generally room to get around these.  For instance Bank of Ireland won't charge fees if you have a certain amount of online transactions in a quarter.  They are tricky though, their quarters don't align with the calendar months and they don't advertise their dates, so find out from your branch.  Look at switching accounts.  Banks are losing customers left right and centre so most of them are offering competitive switching packages. 

Look into credit unions!  Credit Unions are amazing, I love them. There are no fees, they still care about customer service, they still have tellers, they open on Saturdays and late one night a week and they are much more generous with loans.  Most of them offer budget accounts and free financial advise as well.  If they did credit cards and mortgages like they do in America, the banks would seriously lose out.

'meal planning' photo (c) 2009, Liz - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/3. Plan Your Meals
This is a huge one.  I cannot even begin to tell you how much I save when I do this dilligently. I cut my grocery budget from almost 200 euro a week down to about seventy if I'm good. That's a family of five with one in nappies.  Every Sunday I sit down and plan out meals  for the week.  I look in my freezer, fridge and pantry and see what I already have that I can use and plan at least three meals around that.  Then I check the sales at all my grocery stores for the week and plan meals around that.  I write up a specific shopping list and STICK TO IT!  With the exception of a mid-week egg and milk run I try not to deviate from the list and my grocery budget remains low.  Initially this would take me about two hours a week, but these days I can knock it out in twenty minutes.  I will probably write a much more specific post on this later this week and lay out how I do it and some tips and tricks.

4. Check your Beauty Regime
Let's be honest, lots of us got used to regular Celtic Tiger facials, manicures and pedicures. Perhaps we can't live without our premium cosmetics? Maybe we need a professional colour every six weeks?  I'd urge you to really reconsider these options.  I used to use Clarins and in a concession I switched to Liz Earle but after things got really hard I switched to plain old coconut oil. I use it as cleanser and moisturizer and my skin has never looked better. Cost? 6 euro per quarter. I kid you not.  I have also cut out professional colour and generally only get a hair cut once a year or so. The salon is out, I do my own manicures and pedicures and any other treatments I might need.  I have also experimented with making my own products at home with great results.  It's really a matter of prioritising here, you can still look good on a budget. What's more important? Your hair now or your finances down the line?  It's much easier to gradually cut back than to have to go cold turkey if something unexpected happens down the line.

5. Consider your travel expenses.
Try and cut travel expenses as much as possible.  Do you need two cars?  Can you cut down daily commuting? Compare the cost of the school bus with the cost of petrol and wear and tear. You might be surprised to find the bus works out much cheaper in the long run.  Schedule errands to go around times you will already be in town.  If you have to drop a kid to practice, schedule your grocery trips around this so you're not running out more than once.  Make sure your tyres are properly inflated, don't carry any excess weight in the car, keep windows closed etc to make sure you get the best mileage you can. Carpool whenever you can.

6. Cut down your reading costs
'Bookworms' photo (c) 2009, Thomas Mueller - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/ I'm an avid reader and was spending a fortune on books, so this category made a big difference to us.  Do you read the newspaper daily?  How much is this costing?  Consider getting a digital subscription or the Guardian app (a one off fee for unlimited news.)  Consider getting a Kindle.  You will still be able to buy books but at a substantial discount, plus you'll have them with you all the time and the environmental impact is much less.  You can also subscribe to magazines and newspapers on the Kindle for a very good price.  Consider using the library as well. It's free and often has a great selection of movies and music as well.  If you can't find the books you need you can always get them ordered in or borrow from other libraries.  We are lucky to have a great system here.  Another option for bookworms is Book Mooch.  You can put your books up and when people request them you get points to use to get other books.  It's a great system and has lots of worldwide fans.

7. Monitor your Utility Spends
Have you shopped around for the best plans?  Sites like Bonkers.ie and Uchoose.ie can help with this.  Do you really need a landline? Most people use their mobile for most everything these days and with most providers offering competitive packages to suit various individual needs. If you make international calls, check options like Rebtel and Skype. Look into the various tv/internet packages as well, as these can work out a lot cheaper than having a landline connection.  It's also worth keeping an eye on your electricity usage.  Many libraries will lend out a monitor for two weeks so you can see where you are wasting energy.  Personally we found fans on the oven or in the bathrooms to absolutely eat electricity and so avoid them as much as possible.  Try and hang out clothes instead of using the dryer when possible, teach the kids to turn off lights and appliances when not in use.

8. Shop smart
We've all heard the adage never shop when hungry, this is true. I will add a few to that. Shop when you're in a hurry! You're less likely to be distracted and buy unnecessary items or ones not on your list.  Don't take kids with you if at all possible.  Not only will the public at large be eternally grateful, but you will be less likely to be tempted by small people's choices.  Shop at the discount stores first.  Yes, this means Aldi and Lidl.  Did you know that may of their products are the same branded products you buy at the mainstream supermarkets?  For instance, the flour at Aldi is made by Odlums.  It's 1.29 for 2kg.  The EXACT SAME flour branded at Tesco will set you back 2.79.  No brainer methinks.  The same is true of many of their products and when you do 90% of your shop at Aldi or Lidl I dare you to spend over 100e, when a similar trolley at Tesco would easily be double that.  Look at the various shop websites each week and check the weekly deals.  Sometimes this means going to more than one shop but the money saved can be substantial.

9. Buy bulk when possible
Keep an eye out for products you buy on a regular basis.  If they are on sale it's worth stocking up.  Also keep an eye out for bigger packaging, sometimes you can save money by buying bigger packages.  Note I said sometimes... other times the shop knows you will make such an assumption and actually up charge for bigger packages.  Those little snacky cheeses are notorious for this.  Always check the per unit price and if it's not listed, whip out your phone and divide the total price by the number of units.  Check out the discount shops like Dealz and Cash and Carries that are popping up all over the place.  They are generally great for household products and bulk sizing.  I was able to get the huge box of Pampers for 12e back in Offaly which actually worked out cheaper than Aldi and Lidl alternatives.

'cooking' photo (c) 2006, mararie - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/10. Cook from scratch
This may seem like a no brainer, but for many people it can also seem like a non-option  Two income families are often very busy and finding the time to cook can be hard indeed.  I would suggest looking into options like once-a-month-cooking and freezer cooking.  Also look at packing lunches versus eating out.  That coffee habit? Invest in a coffee grinder (about 10 euro) buy some beans and grind your own each morning for a cup of brew that will be better than any cafe. 

What tips can you guys add?  Is there a change you've made that has made a big difference to your spending?  I'd love to hear them!






Sunday, April 14, 2013

Chicken and Black Bean Burritos

This is a delicious and super easy Tex Mex meal that can be whipped up in no time. Serve with salsa, sour cream and shredded lettuce for a delicious healthy meal!

Ingredients-
- 1 onion, diced
- 2 cups shredded cooked chicken
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 tbsp cumin
- 1 tsp chilli powder
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 2-3 tbsp salsa
- 1 can black beans, drained
- 1 large handful coriander (cilantro) chopped
- 2 cups shredded cheese
- 8 flour tortillas
- butter for frying

Melt a tablespoon if butter in a small skillet. Add onion and sauté until softened. Add in chicken and spiced and stir in garlic until fragrant. Remove from heat and stir in salsa, beans and coriander. Season to taste. Depending on your taste you may want to add a teaspoon of sugar to counteract the salsa.

Split the mixture onto the 8 tortillas. Top with 1/8 of the cheese and fold into a little envelope.

Fry in butter until browned and pop in oven to keep warm while you do the rest.

Serve with salsa, guacamole, sour cream and some shredded lettuce. Enjoy!


Saturday, April 6, 2013

Vanilla Puff Pancake

This is one of the kids favourite weekend breakfasts. It's absolutely a cinch to make and such a treat.  It's got a big protein punch too.

To increase the portions just add another 1/4 cup milk and flour plus an additional egg and tablespoon of sugar per person, the recipe below serves four and a baby, although everyone usually wants seconds! :)




Ingredients:
  • 1 cup plain flour
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • Powdered suggar to serve
Preheat oven to 200C/400F.

Get a large casserole dish and place the butter in it. Pop into the oven while you prepare the batter.

Mix the flour and eggs (don't ask, just do, it seems to make sense that the milk would be a better option, but that makes lumps) when the eggs and flour form a thick paste whisk in the rest of the ingredients and vanilla seeds.  Whisk until well combined and no lumps remain. 

Allow to stand as long as you like but at least 5-10 minutes.

When oven is pre-heated and butter melted, take out dish and swirl the butter to coat the entire dish.  Pour in the batter and pop back into the oven.

Cook for 15-25 minutes or until it's beautifully risen and golden and the middle is cooked.

Once done remove and quickly dust with powdered sugar and serve at once.  It will fall once it's out, but it will still be delicious!

A savoury version of this recipe can be easily made omitting the sugar and vanilla and adding some mustard as in yorkshire puddings or heating sausages in the butter first to make toad in the hole.  It's extremely versatile and fruit can be added as well to great affect.  I often add apples and the sugar to the butter and let them begin to caramelise with a pinch of cinnamon before adding the batter and the result is sublime!  A real winner! :)



Friday, April 5, 2013

Sweet Baby Carrot Cake

I love heady textured carrot cake as much as any other person but sometimes the occasion calls for something more feminine and elegant. Enter the sweet baby carrot cake!

This cake (a Paula Deen recipe I believe, copied it down from a magazine years ago) is originally made with jars of baby food carrot purée but I just puréed half a pound of boiled carrots. Baked in layers with a lusciously light cream cheese frosting the cake turns out delicate and moist and stays tasty for days. Perfect for a baby shower or just having the girls round for coffee. People who don't normally like carrot cake (aka my kids) adore this cake.

It's very simple too I just dump everything in the food processor that I puréed the carrots in, easy peasy and no mess!

Ingredients:

For the cake-
  • 2 cups plain flour

  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1.5 cups vegetable oil
  • 8 oz puréed boiled carrots
  • 4 large free range eggs
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • Cream cheese frosting (follows)
  • Pecans to garnish, if desired.

Preheat oven to 170C/325F.

Butter and flour three 9 inch round cake pans.

Beat together or food process all ingredients.

Divide evenly between the three pans.

Bake for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Cool for five minutes or so in pans and then turn out onto a cooling rack. Do not frost until fully cooled.

Frost liberally the top of the first cake and place the second layer on top. Repeat with the third layer.  Put an extremely thin layer over the sides and top of the cake, paper thin, this is known as the crumb coat and will prevent crumbs from getting in your frosting.  Allow this to set for 30 minutes or so, popping in the fridge to speed up the process if you would like.

Once the crumb coat is set frost top and sides liberally with an offset spatula and decorate as desired.

For the Frosting-
  • 8 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 2 oz / 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1lb of icing/powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
Beat cream cheese and butter together and slowly add powdered sugar.  Add vanilla and beat until smooth and creamy and there's no trace of graininess from the sugar.